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Have You Ever Questioned a Rescue’s Adoption Fees?

I recently checked out a dog who hadn't yet seen a vet, and the rescue wanted $450 in fees. Is that out of line?

Heather Marcoux  |  Dec 5th 2014


Back in October, my husband and I began our search for a second dog. He said we could adopt again if I started eating meat again, so I started munching on chicken wings and looking at adoptable dogs online. Eventually, my husband and I drove out to a rescue to introduce our dog, GhostBuster, to his potential new buddy.

My interactions with a staff member from this organization began over email after I found its Facebook page full of photos of adoptable dogs. After I explained what type of size and temperament we were looking for, the staff member emailed me a photo of an adorable dog I hadn’t seen online.

She told me to reply to her email within 10 minutes to arrange a meeting or she would be posting the dog’s photo on Facebook. She also told me that he would certainly go quickly once online.

Still feeling the sting of being rejected by another rescue, I emailed back in a flash. Unlike so many of the rescues I had recently contacted, this place actually answered my email and wasn’t asking for details about my work, my reproductive future, or my fence. In fact, the only question they asked was whether the $450 adoption fee was out of my price range.

I said no. After all, our GhostBuster’s adoption fees had been almost $600, and I consider it money well spent because he had seen a vet for vaccination and neuter surgery, and he also underwent behavioral testing before being placed up for adoption.

I did ask why this dog’s adoption fee was $200 more than the fees for other dogs in the rescue’s care, and I was told that the higher price reflected his highly adoptable status. Looking back, this was obviously a red flag. I should have stopped the email conversation right there, but instead I loaded GhostBuster up in the car and drove out to the country to meet this “highly adoptable” dog.

His pictures didn’t lie — he was certainly adorable. His story was sad, as he had been surrendered by someone escaping an abusive relationship. The little dude seemed social, and the staff member showing him told us he loved cats and children, having always lived with kitties and kids. GhostBuster checked out this smaller doggy dude and give him the sniff of approval.

That’s when I asked the questions I should have asked before even driving out there.

“So he’s up-to-date on his vaccinations and everything?”

“He hasn’t had any vaccinations here,” the staff member said. “We ran out. We still need to go pick some up. We would take him to the vet for them, but we’re just in so much debt to the vet that we can’t right now.”

“So he hasn’t seen a vet?”

“No. He doesn’t really need to though,” she replied.

That’s when the dog lifted his leg to mark on the wall beside the couch I was sitting on. The conversation temporarily turned to that, and the staff member told me that all small-breed males mark indoors. Knowing that this information is completely false, I started to lose faith in her credibility. I turned the conversation back to why the dog hadn’t seen a vet since being surrendered.

She explained that this dog was neutered years ago and seemed very healthy and therefore didn’t really need to see a vet.

The whole conversation left me wondering exactly what the $450 adoption fee was for.

According to the staff member showing him, this dog had been surrendered by the owner on Saturday. It was now Tuesday.

When I questioned why this dog (who had been in the rescue’s care for such a short time) had such a high adoption fee without receiving medical care, the staff member got very defensive. She began lecturing me about the realities of rescue, telling me that the organization actually lost money on every dog that it rescued.

“We do this out of the goodness of our hearts,” she told me.

I can certainly understand that many rescues spend thousands of dollars on each animal, and that adoption fees often don’t even come close to covering the cost of caring for these unwanted pets, but I wasn’t about to give this person $450 for a dog that could possibly be carrying a disease.

I felt mislead, as I had read online that all dogs entering this place had to present vaccination records. I never would have brought my dog with me had I known the reality of the situation. My husband felt so uncomfortable with this potentially unvaccinated dog socializing with our boy that he left the building with GhostBuster just as the defensive lecture kicked into high gear.

“We don’t do this for profit,” she told me. “If you want to see adoption for profit, go to Petland.”

“That’s actually where I got GhostBuster,” I said. “He had all his vet work done, too.”

As I drove away from this facility, I felt bad for the little dog who I was leaving behind, but I also knew I would never endanger my fur babies by bringing a dog who hadn’t seen a vet into our house.

From a financial perspective, a $450 adoption fee for an unvetted, potentially unvaccinated dog is just a bad bet. I mean, GhostBuster had a full medical workup before we adopted him, but through allergies and emergencies he is still averaging a vet visit every other month. I can’t imagine what the vet bills might have been for this “highly adoptable” pup.

When we got home that night, I told my husband that I was going to relax on the dog search for a while.

“If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen,” I said.

Two weeks later, it happened. An amazing rescue responded to an email I sent, asked a ton of questions, scheduled a meet and greet, and did a house check; my new baby Marshmallow soon came to our home for a trial adoption.

For a $350 adoption fee, I adopted a dog who had been lovingly fostered and completely vetted.

Readers, what do you expect to be included in an adoption fee? Are vet records always a must? Tell us your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.